LOCAL GOVERNMENT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (ENVIRONMENT UPGRADE AGREEMENTS) BILL 2015

Second Reading

5 August 2015

Mr WYNNE (Minister for Planning) — I rise to make a contribution to debate on the Local Government Legislation Amendment (Environmental Upgrade Agreements) Bill 2015. I have listened carefully to the member for Caulfield’s contribution, for which he used his full 30-minute entitlement, and I have to say: what an extraordinary attempt at revisionism it was. The member for Caulfield claims that this very important initiative was an initiative of the former Liberal government. That is simply not the case; it is untrue. This was an initiative of the former Labor government. At the time I had the honour of being the Minister for Local Government. Let the record show that the member for Caulfield in his contribution was wrong, and that in fact the initial bill, the City of Melbourne bill, was in fact not only a Labor initiative, but I introduced the bill and it was passed by the house.

For the member for Caulfield to try in this lame way to make some claim that this important policy initiative was an initiative of the former Liberal-Nationals coalition is simply wrong. The member also claims that the architecture of the bill we have before us was again put into the Parliament by the previous government. It is correct that it was passed by the upper house during the term of the previous government, but it languished in the lower house literally for months.

Mr Southwick — It was introduced late in 2014.

Mr WYNNE — The member for Caulfield says that that is rubbish. In fact the bill sat in this house, and we were ready to debate it. I approached the then Minister for Local Government and said that we would be happy to debate this bill any time the government was ready. I said that we could truncate the number of speakers, because we believed the bill was very important. We believed it was very important that we extend the scope of this important initiative — again, I reiterate it was a Labor government initiative — across the broader local government sector, including the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) and the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA), as the peak bodies for local government.

Mr Southwick — Have you actually spoken to them?

Mr WYNNE — The member for Caulfield is asking me if I have spoken to the MAV. Have I spoken to the MAV? I wonder whether that was Rob Spence who was in my office yesterday. I think he is the CEO of the MAV, as I recall! Do I have any standing in the local government sector? A little bit. I have a little bit of form there.

Mr Nardella — The Right Honourable!

Mr WYNNE — Indeed, as my colleague says, the Right Honourable. I think I might reassume that title.

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr WYNNE — How regal of me! But the important point is this: it is a terrific initiative, and it is a Labor government initiative.

The environmental upgrade agreements are council-based financing mechanisms that enable businesses to better access finances for particularly important climate change initiatives, like energy, water and waste reduction upgrades. Specifically they are for non-residential buildings. The rollout of the program has been particularly successful at the City of Melbourne. I acknowledge the Lord Mayor, the Right Honourable Lord Mayor — Robert Doyle, who has been — —

Mr Nardella — The best opposition leader we’ve never had!

Mr WYNNE — Thank you very much. Robert has been a passionate advocate for this program, not merely within the City of Melbourne, but he has also sought further support for the rollout of this program right across local government.

As the member for Caulfield indicated, under an environmental upgrade agreement a lender provides the finance to a building owner and the local council collects repayments through the rates system. The council then passes the property charge on to the lender. It is a very elegant and simple way of garnering both the support of local government and obviously business to engage in energy efficiency opportunities.

It is good for business because it lowers cost to it, and it is good for the environment. It is a win-win for both parties. It is in that context that I think the elegance of the scheme is revealed: you have the backing of local government in effect as the party that provides a very important level of comfort to the lender. The lender in this context has come in the form of very significant lending by major financial institutions, including the ANZ bank, which funded the program in New South Wales, and indeed other financial institutions. They know that when there is long-term low interest lending for this particular initiative there is the backing in the first instance of a strong legislative framework and also the backing of the City of Melbourne itself as an entity. I know when this program rolls out across local government more generally there is going to be a very significant uptake of this initiative going forward.

The member for Caulfield suggested that there were some concerns about how this program would roll out. I know that the Minister for Local Government has had extensive consultation with local government, particularly with the MAV and the VLGA, where she enjoys a very strong relationship with respect to this program. One issue that the member for Caulfield asked about is the question of resourcing. It is a very simple proposition: it is an opt-in system. You opt in if you want.

Mr Southwick — You have to find out about it first. You have to know it exists. You have to promote it. How does one promote it? How does one know that it exists?

Mr WYNNE — Heaven’s above! The member for Caulfield is the opposition spokesperson on local government, is he? No, of course he is not. How would you know about it? That is why you have peak bodies called the MAV and VLGA, and do you not reckon they will be pushing this program out through the various avenues they have available to them and through their conferences?

Mr Southwick — You obviously have not spoken to Rob Spence.

Mr WYNNE — It must have been someone else I spoke to yesterday. Was this another Rob Spence who turned up yesterday? Does he have a brother called Rob Spence? Unbelievable!

There are innumerable opportunities for local governments to learn about this program. From my lengthy experience in local government, I know there is a huge appetite for local governments to want to take up these initiatives. I know the member for Ivanhoe in his contribution is going to talk about other initiatives where local government has led the way, particularly around energy efficient street lighting and the amazing work that local government has done in recycling. Local governments have led the way in standing up and being responsible citizens in relation to climate change. This is simply another opportunity for local governments. I know they will take this up with alacrity, because it is a terrific scheme that brings significant benefits particularly to the businesses that take it up but with very significant environmental impacts as well.

There is a certain irony in the opposition talking to us and lecturing us about environmental matters.

Mr Southwick interjected.

Mr WYNNE — The member for Caulfield says, ‘You can’t help yourself’. He spent 10 minutes slagging us off about various major projects that we undertook. The simple thing is this: the current federal government’s position in relation to wind is simply a disgrace. For it to try to drive out of this state such an important industry as wind as an alternative source of power supply to this state means the opposition has no credibility when it comes to the environmental argument — no credibility whatsoever. The alternative federal government’s recent announcements have been magnificent when talking about alternative energy propositions in this state.